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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

G.O.O.D. Music: Cruel Summer (Release Date: 9-18-2012)

        As contradictory as it might seem in light of Kanye West's professed, 'me first, everyone else last,' world view, his music has always been about sharing the wealth. His debut album, The College Dropout, featured no fewer than 12 guest artists, and the dude's only gotten more into delegation since. Consider his last three releases: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy seemed to invite anyone within shouting distance of the music industry, and was followed by his joint effort with Jay-Z, Watch the Throne. And now here arrives Cruel Summer, the debut release from the collective of artists West has gathered under the umbrella of his G.O.O.D. Music imprint. Plenty of hip hop artists love to party, but no one enjoys hosting quite as much as Yeezy.

        The album's title comes to both define and contradict the disc's content. About half of the tracks here sound cold and dirty, far grungier than West's earlier albums would have ever permitted (hence the Cruel). He's obviously trying to play to the strengths of his expansive list of cohorts, and it's pretty impressive just how often he does well by them. These songs play out like a mini-album's worth of So Appalled descendants, MC's playing hot-potato with the mic over beats just as foreboding as the are badass. Clique stands as one of the most addictive hip-hop songs of 2012, rolling off pro verses from Big Sean and Jay-Z into Kanye's ridiculous stream of conscious outro, wherein sex tapes, Tom Cruise, the benefits of melanin, and thoughts of suicide stand next to each other, holding hands. Other tracks of this ilk, like Mercy and The Morning, are constructed of similar parts, but suffer for their inclusion of lower-class contributions by the likes of 2 Chains and Chyi the Prynce. Those with shorter lists of contributors (New God Flow, Cold) tend to fair better than their more inclusive neighbors.

        Then there's that Summer half of the title. When G.O.O.D. Music isn't going out of their way to show just how hard they are, the record sees them doing the exact opposite, heading for brighter, friendlier, bubblier pastures. Only problem is, the disc's best MC tends to sit these ones out, subbing in artists ranging from inspired to head-scratching (West is on the bench for 5 of CS's 12 tracks). It's pretty hard to go wrong with the silky croon that is John Legend, but what excuses are there for Malik Yusef's head-spinningly lame poetry reading at the end of Sin City, or the entirety of slop-pop mess Bliss (is that a screaming eagle sample on repeat?). If only Mr. West would have been a tad more selfish, Cruel Summer wouldn't have ended up feeling like such a mixed bag. Had he kept Creepers to himself, we might have had something interesting on hand. As is, KiD CuDi burp-raps over the inspired beat, his lyrical highlight reading, "If I had one wish, it'd be to have more wishes/ Duh... F*** trying to make it rhyme." I repeat; that's his best line.

        If CS was released under the title Kanye West, this would be a lot less forgivable. With five solo albums under his belt, the producer-turned-rapper-turned-narcissist has a name that's come to connote a specific level of quality (see: high), but this feels more like a mix-tape than anything. I understand the guy's kind of crazy, but do you really think the line, "R. Kelly and the god of rap/S***ing on you, holy crap," would exist on an album that Yeezy was making to promote himself? This is a powerful individual trying to open doors for a few folks whom he finds deserving, and while it's a touch disheartening to hear just how wrong his talent evaluation often is, that doesn't stop Clique, New God Flow, and Cold from being anything less than awesome. As a collective unit, Cruel Summer leaves much to be desired, but its high points are pure radio rap bliss.

Grade: B-

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